'The problem with you Christians ...'

Tuesday, March 19, 2019 - Updated: 3:10 pm

“The problem with you Christians is that you do not look saved.” These words were written by the 19th-century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche was an avowed atheist whose influence on western society endures nearly 120 years after his death. He was wrong about many important things, but his observation about bleak-faced Christians too often rings true.

Now that you and I have begun our sacred journey of Lent toward the great feast of Easter, it’s a good opportunity for us to prove Nietzsche wrong. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the tomb to save us from our sins. Shouldn’t we look and talk and act like people who are saved?

When you looked in the mirror this morning, did the person you saw look like she or he was overjoyed to be saved from sin and shame and death? And if not, why not?

On Ash Wednesday, we began our Lenten observance. On that day, we heard through the Gospels about a three-point plan from Jesus to help us joyfully live out our salvation. The three-point plan that Jesus proposes is: praying, fasting and doing good. When we do those things with a heart focused on Jesus, we will indeed “look saved.”

As you and I decide on our personal Lenten disciplines, it is important that we include all three of those action plans from Jesus.

Open hearts to God

When we make a special commitment to pray during Lent, we can’t just “go through the motions.” Prayer is not an item on a checklist of things to be done. This is true whether we have chosen to pray the rosary every day, or meditate on the Stations of the Cross each week, or spend more time before the Blessed Sacrament, or come to Mass more frequently. Whatever we do to increase prayer is meant to help us develop a deeper relationship with Jesus. Working on our prayer resolution for Lent can help us open up our hearts and let God come closer as we seek to deepen our relationship with him.

When you and I consider the second action plan of Jesus — his call to fast — it is crucial to remember the purpose of fasting. We must put aside the things that we think we need so that we can be more open to him whom we certainly need. Through fasting, we discover how much we need Jesus, and how present he is to us at all times. Whether you and I decide that we’re going to set aside wine, candy, snacks, eating between meals or even to fast from social media, the purpose of fasting is to create a space where we invite Jesus to come into our hearts. We put aside an unnecessary pleasure to make room for the greatest joy — a relationship with Jesus.

The third part of Jesus’ action plan — doing good works — flows naturally from the first two. Prayer and fasting naturally lead us to reach out to others, not simply by becoming “do-gooders,” but through our desire to become more like Jesus.

Imitate Jesus

I well remember one of the first talks that Pope Francis gave after his election in March 2013. He raised questions about our attitude in almsgiving. He asked whether, when we dig into our pockets to help a needy person on the street, we are doing so because we understand this person to be our sister or brother. Whatever good we do for another, the pope said, must be done from the heart, in imitation of Jesus’ Sacred Heart.

If we are not careful, when we act upon our Lenten resolutions we might be tempted to segregate our additional praying, fasting or good works as a time-limited Lenten exercise. In reality, our Lenten disciplines are meant to help us become better people for the rest of our lives. They begin in Lent, but their purpose extends long past Holy Week and Easter.

As I take a look at my Lenten observances, and as you look at yours, can we consider them a heartfelt endeavor to become more like Jesus, our Savior?

If we can broaden our approach to faith to see that our words, deeds and intentions are to be reflections of Jesus, then our faces will reflect the love, peace and mercy that he came to give us. We will look a lot more saved.

And in the end, isn’t that the best way to prove Nietzsche wrong?

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